The Maserati Quattroporte has character, balance and a wonderful engine, but its ride and gearbox mean it’s ultimately flawed.
Tell you what TV's 'The Apprentice' needs: a Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT. The RR Phantom is all wrong for Sir Al: too comfortable, too calming, too aloof. The most surprising thing about the show so far is that he hasn't dumped it...you're very quiet, why should I let you take me for a ride? You're fired.
What's it like?
If Sugar tooled around in the back of the Maser, the show wouldn't just look and sound better, the tetchy tycoon might just deck someone, his natural grumpiness tweaked to snapping point by the largely ropey ride and, better still, the thrumming vibration that shoots up through the cushion between 3500 and 4500rpm and zaps your coccyx. No, the back seat of the new £80,550 ubersporty four door Maserati is not the place to ease away the frazzled nerves of the over-stressed executive. That job, we are led to believe, falls to the Sport GT's slightly smoother and more plushly-equipped twin brother, the Executive GT, also unveiled at the Frankfurt Show last year. Don't bet on it.
Yes, there are smart leather-strap grab handles and, yes, the seats are as beautifully shaped and crafted as those in the front. Though not generous, legroom isn't a problem and the large back doors, which unlatch to the buzz of tiny electric motors, open wide enough for elegant ingress.
The trouble begins when the Sport GT's 400bhp, ex-Ferrari, quad-cam 4.2-litre V8 fires up. It's a classic race-derived design with dry sump lubrication system and chain driven cams and it simply bursts into song. If you're in the back when that happens, as I was for a while in the spirit of experimentation at the car's international launch in Modena, there are two reasons why you'll immediately want to climb in front, preferably behind the steering wheel.
One, if you're a Sir Al type and want to unwind from a heavy day's firing, it's actually a little quieter in the front than the back. And two, that rather fabulous engine acts like a magnet. You want to be close to it, in control of it, selfishly opening the taps and soaking up the sensations whenever it suits. Because the Quattroporte, despite the luxury saloon emphasis implied by its name, is nothing of the sort. It's a Maserati first, last and forever. One that's longer than a BMW 7 series, lower than a Jaguar XJ and just happens to have four doors. It's a spacious driver's car that devotes its size to the pursuit of visual drama - and it is, by far, the sexiest looking saloon on the planet - rather than the cotton-wool cosseting of its rear seat occupants. The Sport GT is the closest thing you can buy to a four-door Ferrari.
It eschews the trans-continental luxury trappings of the Executive (fold out tables, video screens and so on) for a focused performance profile that includes 20-inch alloy wheels, a shapelier steering wheel and handbrake, aluminium pedal covers and new software for the Cambriocorsa electro-mechanical paddle-shift semi-auto transmission that swaps cogs 35 per cent faster at maximum attack. The more aggressive theme continues with kerbside theatre that teams the cross-drilled disc brakes with titanium-coloured calipers, though the swathes of carbonfibre cladding that assail you when you open any of the four doors is possibly an aesthetic cliche too far.
As for the revised exhaust (let's just say it lets the V8 express itself) and tweaked Skyhook adaptive damping software (much tauter when you hit the Sport button), bring it on. It all adds a welcome extra degree of hardnuttedness to the Quattroporte's already uniquely exotic character. And it's that character that, more than ever, fuels the big Maserati's appeal. You could argue that, weighing a chunky 1970kg at the kerb, it needs all of its 400bhp even to stay credible. The claimed performance figures - 171mph, 0-62mph in 5.2sec - are impressive enough but Maserati probably doesn't need reminding that a BMW M5 would blow it out of the water.
Should I buy one?
Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar can all field faster saloons; roomier, quieter, more comfortable and better-handling, too. Despite the clear and considerable improvements to the transmission and chassis, the Quattroporte isn't a standard-setting kind of car. So while full-throttle shifts no longer send shockwaves down the body structure and twisty roads can be attacked with enhanced confidence, the Sport GT still lacks the precision, feel and finesse of the best. None of which matters very much. There isn't a saloon made that can hold a candle to the Quattroporte's beauty, look better "arriving", sound more soulful at full chat or deliver that truly, madly, deeply emotional Modenese supercar experience from behind the wheel. The only place to be.